While naming the usual suspects China and Pakistan among nations with dodgy record on religious freedom and tolerance, the US on Wednesday added a new entrant to that club – Western Europe.
“Several European countries have placed harsh restrictions on religious expression,” said Secretary of state Hilary Clinton releasing the Annual Report on international Religious Freedom on Wednesday.
She didn’t elaborate.
Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state, who took over from Clinton at the release, did. “There is certainly a growing sensitivity and tension in Europe,” he said.
He cited the instance of the Swiss vote on Minarets. The country voted in a refrendum on November 2009 to ban building of Minarets – a Muslim structure – and the government accepted.
But, Posner said, the government of Switzerland is now ‘doing what it can to overturn that and to create a legal and a public process that will basically restore the ability of the Muslim community to build minarets”.
His next example was that of the ban on burqa (veil) in many European countries.
But the report’s focus was clearly a group of 27 countries where religious freedom was either inadequate or inadequately guaranteed – China remains on that list for continuing to ban or restrict certain religious persons, acts and organisations.
The report cites Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims Uighurs, Christians as typical examples.
About Pakistan, the report said, “The government took some steps to improve its treatment of members of religious minorities, but serious problems remaind.”
The other countries on this list were: Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, saudi Arabia, somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and vietnam.
But these have not been designated Countries of Particular Concern. Posner said that’s a separate exercise and will take place over the next few months.